Book Review: Murder at Pelican Lake by Marjorie Mathison Hance @BPPress

Murder at Pelican Lake
Marjorie Mathison Hance
Beaver’s Pond Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-59298-610-1
Trade Paperback

Here we have a sort of semi-traditional story, not quite a cozy, set in a small lake-side community with some terrorizing incidents, a little non-explicit sex, and a variety of meaningful, warm and logical relationships.

We also have a carefully crafted mystery surrounding a sometimes lonely career woman, Carley Norgren. The setting is one of Minnesota’s prettiest lakes, surrounded by sand beaches, pines and small cabins, many owned for generations by the same families. It is here, to the cabin built by Carley’s grand-parents, that she retreats after her job in Minneapolis is abolished. At almost the same time, her lover and she have separated and her life seems to be in ruins. So Carley retreats, amid languid summer days, to recoup and recover at the lake. She has no plans, so life has a way of filling the empty spaces, but she is a strong woman and we sense early on that she will recover. Carley lands in the middle of strange and unusual goings on.

A local teen goes missing, a stranger out of the blue asks to copy certain pages from her deceased father’s research and her pet dog and bird seem at times to experience mysterious or unsettling vibrations. Then, late one night while she kayaks alone on the quiet lake, she encounters men dumping something in deep water.

All these events, strategically woven into the narrative, lead readers along step by step to surprising revelations and a satisfying conclusion. All in all a good, nicely designed and written mystery for warm summer days relaxing on the beach and carrying good binoculars for observation of life along Pelican Lake.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Traces by Carl Brookins—and a Giveaway! @carlbrookins @BPPress

Traces
Carl Brookins
Beaver’s Pond Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-64343-897-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Mystery, danger, and international intrigue confront Lockem and Kane in their second high-stakes adventure, Traces. As we wander through life, we leave evidence of our passing: footprints, DNA, connections with others. Our trails are sometimes large and vibrant, often pale and uncertain. Marjorie Kane is a retired exotic dancer who, after years of headlining in upscale venues, gradually descends into performing in meaner clubs. Looking for new adventures, she meets Alan Lockem, a retired army intelligence officer interested in continued service. Together, Lockem and Kane take on unusual and sometimes dangerous jobs to help troubled civilians and former colleagues. When Lockem is asked to retrieve a flash drive storing military records, it seems simple enough. But encounters with foreign spies, an armed home invasion, and interactions with international, federal, and local police complicate Lockem and Kane’s efforts to unravel and understand the traces of these crimes and aid their old colleagues across the pond.

When I met Marjorie Kane and Alan Lockem in their first adventure (see my 2018 review of Grand Lac), I was really drawn to this couple who are so unique and, yet, so very normal. Marjorie, in particular, naturally attracts a reader’s attention merely by her past as an exotic dancer but the point of this duo is that, like many people, they’ve reinvented themselves in their later years and they’ve done so successfully and with panache, not to mention taking much pleasure in their new lives as private investigators of a sort.

This time, Lockem and Kane set out on what should have been a fairly uneventful job but turns out to be their own personal spy thriller. Who could have guessed that Minnesota could be a hotbed of international intrigue and military secrets along with some serious danger for our investigators, these people who could be any happy, comfortable couple in any middle class neighborhood?

This is where backgrounds and life experiences come into play and Lockem and Kane prove themselves to be resilient and up to the task at hand. These are intelligent people with more than a little street smarts and that’s why I like them so much, along with a hefty dose of just plain likeability. Mr. Brookins has crafted a story full of interesting twists and a pair of protagonists I hope will be back with many more adventures 😃

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2020.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a
paperback copy of Traces,
leave a comment below. The
winning name will be drawn on
Monday evening, November 23rd.
Open to the US and Canada.

Book Reviews: That Left Turn at Albuquerque by Scott Phillips and Where Privacy Dies by Priscilla Paton @soho_press @priscilla_paton @CoffeetownPress

That Left Turn at Albuquerque
Scott Phillips
Soho Crime, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-64129-109-5
Hardcover

The author has assembled here an engaging and substantial cast of characters. That he is able to keep track of their criminal activities and their attitudes toward their fellow humans, as well as their active lives is quite impressive.

Most of the characters engage in illegal and scurrilous acts without apparent concern for the morality or humanity of their lives. Or for the impact their actions have on others, often innocent others. That most of their criminality is directed at other criminals may be seen by many readers as a mitigating factor. A significant number of the characters are imbued with some level of humor and see their fellow humans as actually funny at times.

Central to the story is down and out attorney, Douglas Rigby. His small, now solo practice is falling to pieces and he engages in several illegal enterprises in his attempts to stave off bankruptcy and total ruin.

Readers will be treated to bare-knuckle humor, tongue in cheek satire, up-tempo action, murder, mayhem, and a good deal of action. A somewhat peculiar, jaundiced look at society, propels the book from start to finish.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Where Privacy Dies
A Twin Cities Mystery #1
Priscilla Paton
Coffeetown Press, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-665-6
Trade Paperback

From the striking cover to the final resolution of murky death and the corruption by power and money of numerous characters, this rich and at times difficult novel will attract, enthrall and sometimes irk readers. Central to the story is the gradual growth of understanding and appreciation of two detectives in a Twin Cities law enforcement force titled G-Met. It’s an intriguing amalgam of special cops whose franchise covers multiple jurisdictions in the metropolitan region of East Central Minnesota. It’s an authorial creation with much interesting and intriguing potential.

Lead detective is tall lanky Erik Jansson, divorced father of a young son. He is not a typical cop one frequently finds in this genre. He’s paired with a new hire from a small city in southern Minnesota, Deb Metzger, a six-foot plus lesbian, who could competently handle the physical requirements of a corporate bodyguard. The two are not instantly simpatico and thereby inhabit a running source of minor conflict and mutual support which adds a fine level of benign conflict to the novel.

Although the title of the novel is a quickly understood clue to an important dimension of the mystery, this story turns on the deviousness and sometimes nasty inclinations of human beings who have enjoyed a high degree of success without the leavening factor of ethics and moral suasion. The narrative is tight, solid and delves neatly into ego, intrusion of technology, moral failure and the entanglement of those who would ignore their childhood schooling. A multiplicity of characters, crisp dialogue and an absence of unnecessary description adds to the richness of the novel. The novel competently reveals a fresh voice and a thoughtful look into the modern world of computer crime and our almost universal entanglement therein. I recommend this fine novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke @JoanneFluke @KensingtonBooks

Coconut Layer Cake Murder
A Hannah Swensen Mystery #25
Joanne Fluke
Kensington Books, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-4967-1889-1
Hardcover

The population of Eden Lake, Minnesota, is probably the most cookie-eating population in the country. It’s because baker and amateur sleuth Hannah Swensen, owner of The Cookie Jar, gives everyone she comes in contact with cookies.  Butterscotch and Pretzel Cookies, Confetti Blizzard Whippersnapper cookies, Strawberry and Vanilla Pinwheel Cookies—you name it. In the latest book of this long running series, Hannah and her mother travel to California to help a friend pack for a cross country move and to fit in a little sightseeing.

A panicked phone call from her younger sister brings Hannah back to Minnesota. Sister Michelle’s boyfriend, Lonnie, a deputy, is the top suspect in the murder of a friend, Darcy. Darcy had been at a bar and had been drinking too much, and Lonnie drove her home. When he was in her house, making sure she got in safely, he passed out and when he awoke next morning, she was dead. Hannah investigates, with plates of Snowflake and Ice Cookies in hand, interviewing witnesses and suspects.

Readers who like recipes with their mysteries, and who haven’t discovered the delights of Eden Lake, will be pleased to discover this series. With twenty-five books now in the series, there are a lot of mysteries to be solved, and many recipes to be tried. Recipes have detailed instructions, so even the most inexperienced cook will not be intimidated.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2020.

Book Review: Last Things by Jacqueline West

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Title: Last Things
Author: Jacqueline West
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iTunes
Amazon // The Book Depository // Indiebound

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Last Things
Jacqueline West
Greenwillow Books, May 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-287506-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When strange things start happening to local music idol Anders Thorson, everyone blames his number-one-fan, Thea. But is she out to hurt him? Or protect him?

High school senior Anders Thorson is unusually gifted. His band, Last Things, is legendary in their northern Minnesota hometown. With guitar skills that would amaze even if he weren’t only eighteen, Anders is the focus of head-turning admiration. And Thea Malcom, a newcomer to the insular town, is one of his admirers. Thea seems to turn up everywhere Anders goes: gigs at the local coffeehouse, guitar lessons, even in the woods near Anders’s home.

When strange things start happening to Anders—including the disappearance of his beloved cat, then his sort-of girlfriend, and, somehow, his musical talent—blame immediately falls on Thea. But is she trying to hurt him? Or save him? Can he trust a girl who doesn’t seem to know the difference between dreams and reality? And how much are they both willing to compromise to get what they want?

As Last Things opens, we’re thrust into a world in which there are malignant entities waiting to take advantage of humans’ weaknesses but those same humans are unaware of the hidden dangers. Most humans, that is; Thea and her aunt are “sensitive” to such things but then we have to wonder, what are their motivations? Are they on the side of evil or do they hope to protect the other townspeople?

In particular, Thea’s behavior with regards to Anders raises many questions but Anders has secrets of his own, secrets that are eating away at his soul. After all, his explosive musical charisma is undoubtedly unusual but it may be due to an honest talent that surpasses the norm. Then again, perhaps he had a little help.

Thea’s obsessive interest in Anders seems a bit stalkerish at first but, when bad things start to happen, Thea and Anders are drawn almost inexorably to each other. What we don’t know is whether this is a good thing or not and Ms. West keeps us guessing—and, in my case, angsting about it—for quite a long ways into the story. This is by no means a complaint as I appreciate a creepy vibe in a thriller that won’t let me put the book down and the whole question of good versus evil is always a terrific hook. Most of all, I know I don’t want to go into those woods 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2019.

About the Author

Jacqueline West is the author of the NYT-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the YA novel Dreamers Often Lie, and the new middle grade fantasy The Collectors.

She is also the author of two poetry collections, Cherma and Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions, and her poetry and short fiction appear in a variety of publications.

She lives in Red Wing, Minnesota, with her family.

Website // Facebook // Instagram // Goodreads

 

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Follow the tour here.

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GIVEAWAY

Prize: Win (1) of (2) copies of LAST THINGS
by Jacqueline West (US Only)

Starts: April 29th 2019

Ends: May 12th 2019

Enter here.

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Book Review: Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger

Desolation Mountain
Cork O’Connor Mystery #17
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-4746-3
Hardcover

Stephen O‘Connor, Cork O’Connor’s young son, has always had visions presaging tragedies.  This novel is based on one in which he sees an eagle shot from the sky and a menace he can’t identify at his back.  And then a plane carrying a U.S. Senator and her family crashes on Desolation Mountain.  Cork and Stephen subsequently join others attempting to find survivors and clues.

Soon, some of the first responders go missing, and father and son begin to investigate.  Then Cork inadvertently meets Bo Thorson, a character from a long ago novel, then a secret service agent, now a private investigator.  They join forces, but soon Cork begins to doubt Bo’s role.  The area is overrun with representatives of various federal agencies and is cordoned off.

The plot centers on the meaning of the vision and solution of the cause of the crash.  This is the 18th novel in the series, and provides, for the first time, a deeper look into Cork and Stephen’s relationship.  As is a constant in the series, it is well-written, and the descriptions of the North Country graphic and excellent.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: Sulfur Springs by William Kent Krueger

Sulfur Springs
Cork O’Connor Mystery Series #16
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, August 2017
ISBN: 978-1-5011-4734-0
Hardcover

Krueger has become a spectacular writer. You can see his development if you read his entire output. His observational skills have always been first rate and his ability to refine and shape those skills to serve the story only get better. And unlike a few writers today, he hasn’t resorted to the use of formulaic plots and characters or settings, merely to meet another deadline.

Sulfur Springs also demonstrates the author’s willingness to explore new horizons for Corcoran O’Conner, ex-sheriff of Tamarack County in northern Minnesota. Now married to Native American Rainy Bisonette, and retired from regular law enforcement, Cork and Rainy’s life is upturned when Rainy’s son, Peter, leaves a garbled telephone message that provides only a sense of deep trouble in the hot Arizona desert.

Cork and Rainy travel immediately to southern Arizona where they discover Peter’s whereabouts are a mystery and the people of Sulfur Springs and surrounding towns are either lying or not talking at all. The story is complex and heavily peopled by many players, none of whom seem to be what they are on the surface. As they traverse the many layers of relationships, Cork is disturbed to learn there are parts of the life of his new wife of which he is completely ignorant. It disturbs him and part of the fabric of the story deals with his efforts and needs to resolve the questions arising in Rainy’s background.

As the couple persists in tracing her son, more and danger pivots to focus on them and the people around them. The novel works on several levels, as has become common in Krueger novels. The resolutions, legal, psychological and personal, while many and varied, are carefully handled. This is an eminently satisfying novel with a penetrating mystery at its heart.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.